CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Virginia's National Marriage Project has released another disturbing report. It reiterates that marriage remains strong for college-educated couples -- but it's disintegrating in "Middle America," the nearly 60 percent of the populace with only high school diplomas.
As the gulf between affluent Americans and the less-privileged keeps widening, vast numbers of high school graduates apparently can't find careers solid enough to support secure families.
"Among that group, 44 percent of children are now born outside of marriage, up sharply from 13 percent in the 1980s," the project says. This bodes ill because "children born or raised outside of marriage are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional and social problems -- including drug use, depression, attempted suicide and dropping out of high school -- compared to children in intact married families."
The Institute for American Values, which helped write the report, said: "The retreat from marriage is both a cause and a consequence of increasing inequality in America."
Dr. William Galston of the Brookings Institution added: "We believe marriage is a fundamental building block of American society, and marriage is in trouble. That is contributing to widening class divides .... Societies suffer when marriage falters."
To boost wedlock among less-affluent high school graduates, the National Marriage Project report urges various efforts such as more specialized job training, and "triple the child tax credit to shore up the economic foundations of family life in Middle America."
Previously, the Project warned that fading wedlock among high school graduates may mean "that we will witness the emergence of a new society. For a substantial share of the United States, economic mobility will be out of reach, their children's life chances will diminish, and large numbers of young men will live apart from the civilizing power of married life."
The Christian Science Monitor published a commentary saying:
"Statistically, the biggest predictor of family economic status is not race or geography, but whether households are headed by one parent or two. That's why a family headed by a single white mother is nearly three times more likely to be poor than a family headed by married black parents. In fact, among all children living with a single mom, well more than a third live in poverty."
We don't know whether government programs can foster stable marriages among high school graduates. Changing the culture is exceedingly difficult. Sometimes, good examples help. We agree with the Monitor's conclusion:"We have in the White House a nearly poster-perfect example of a vibrant, committed, successful family. Breaking stereotypes, Barack and Michelle Obama show it's possible to stay together whether or not your own parents did, to be a loving dad even if you barely knew your own, and to look totally cool as a family."